Brave the serpentine Hana Highway and your reward is a lush rain forest wonderland and a journey back to Hawaii’s roots.
When it comes to vacation spots, isolation can be a good thing. Located at Maui's eastern tip, Hana is one of Hawaii's remotest towns, home to just 1,235 people. There are no high-rise hotels here, life moves at an unhurried pace, and Native Hawaiian traditions—in fishing, agriculture, song, and dance—are preserved and cherished.
Daily air service now links Hana with Maui's main airport in Kahului. Still, for most visitors Hana is simply the endpoint of the scenic Hana Highway, a narrow, twisting 45-mile stretch from Paia through dense tropical rain forest that presents opportunities to stop at waterfalls and beaches. After making the trip and glancing briefly at the center of town—not much more than Hasegawa General Store and the grounds of the beautiful Travaasa Hana resort—many folks turn around and head back. And that's a shame.
"Sometimes it takes two or three drives out here before visitors realize they should stay the night to really experience Hana," says Alesiamae Chow of Hana Coast Gallery, a showcase of regional painting, handmade furniture, and other crafts and fine art.
Hana's beaches are among the most intimate and uncrowded shores on Maui. In town, the dark gray sand, grassy picnic area, and calm waters of Hana Bay Beach Park attract local families, outrigger canoe racers, kayakers, and anglers. Farther south, at Hamoa Beach, the palm-fringed, turquoise waters and pulsing surf offer great bodyboarding.
Savvy travelers continue 12 miles beyond Hana to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. From the visitor center, hardy hikers can tackle the Pipiwai Trail, a four-mile round-trip path that winds inland along streams and through a stand of towering bamboo to 400-foot Waimoku Falls. Most people opt instead for the easy half-mile round-trip to the swimming spot at Ohe'o Gulch, a series of cascades and basins descending toward the ocean. Tides and waves permitting, you can dip in and relax.
In the same area, on hikes guided by a nonprofit educational group called Kipahulu 'Ohana, Native Hawaiian farmers show visitors taro patches they have restored using long-established and sustainable practices.
In and around Hana, unstaffed roadside tables called honor stands have become a more recent custom. Drop your money in the box and choose from local produce such as passion fruit and bananas. If you're lucky, the stand will be selling fresh flower leis, symbols of affection that you can take with you as a reminder to come back soon.
Photography by Jamie Pham/Alamy (Waimoku Falls); courtesy Navin75/Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published in November 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.